When you hear the word “zombie,” what’s the first thing that pops in your head? Most people associate zombies with the walking undead depicted in classic horror movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.” In recent years, however, zombie computers have become increasingly common. So, what is a zombie computer exactly?

The Basics of a Zombie Computer

A zombie computer is any computer or device that’s been hijacked by a hacker to deploy spam or malware. If a hacker wants to spread a virus, for example, he or she may infect dozens, hundreds or even thousands of computers with malware. Each of these infected computers becomes a zombie computer, which the hacker uses to spread the virus to unsuspecting victims.

In most cases, hackers create a network of zombie computers. Known as a botnet, these massive networks can quickly spread viruses, spam or other malware. As the hacker’s botnet grows, he or she is able to conduct more nefarious and crippling cyber attacks.

What Happens If My Computer Becomes a Zombie?

Unfortunately, you won’t always know if or when your computer becomes a zombie. Because zombie computers are used to infect other computers, hackers typically want to conceal their code. As a result, you probably won’t see any major signs if your computer becomes a zombie. With that said, there are still a few telltale signs that may indicate an infection.

If your computer has been hijacked by a hacker and is now a zombie, you may notice the following:

  • Slower speeds
  • Random crashes
  • Unknown processes running in the background
  • Antivirus software detecting threats
  • Missing files or folders
  • High CPU or RAM usage

How to Protect Your Computer From Becoming a Zombie

To protect your computer from becoming a zombie, you must take a proactive approach towards preventing malware infections. Before a hacker can hijack your computer and use it in a botnet to conduct cyber attacks, he or she typically must infect it with malware. Therefore, you need to ensure your computer is fully protected against malware.

Running antivirus software can help identify and protect your computer from malware infections. Additionally, though, you should keep all your computer’s software — especially the operating system (OS) — updated to the latest version. If a piece of software is outdated, a hacker may exploit a known vulnerability to deploy malware on your computer, which could lead to your computer becoming a zombie.